Andrew R.T. Davies says it is time to accept that Wales voted to embark on a new path outside the EU.
It was John Adams, second President of the United States, who once quipped that “facts are stubborn things”. This was a barb levelled at the politicians of his day who had a propensity to shy away from accepting inalienable and inconvenient truths – who instead sought to transpose debate to an upside down world where facts are merely the stuff of subjective perceptions.
Though he said this more than two hundred years ago, his words strike a strange poignancy to recent events. Wales is in the grip of a new and insidious wave of political thinking. The biggest proponents of this thinking are the First Minister Carwyn Jones and the Welsh nationalist leader Leanne Wood, who have since the EU referendum result framed their public utterances through a prism of political denial.
They seem unable to accept that Wales, and indeed the UK, voted to embark on a new path outside the EU. The First Minister seems especially intransigent in his inability to reflect honestly on why some of Wales’ most deprived communities overwhelmingly turned their backs on those distant edifices in Strasbourg and Brussels.
To be sure, Valleys communities and areas of West Wales need extra financial support. They have undoubtedly benefited somewhat from the three tranches of structural funding the Welsh Government has received – and continues to receive – since 2000. And yet 16 years on these areas remain among the poorest in Europe.
That these communities voted Leave is a truer indication than any auditor’s report as to how successfully the Labour-led government spent this money. Calls last week from the leader of Rhondda Cynon Taf Council for an “all-guns blazing” approach to EU-funding before Article 50 is triggered, encapsulated everything that is, and has been, wrong with Labour’s approach to tackling poverty.
With more than £1bn of structural funding yet to be allocated between now and 2020, there is a very real need to re-think how this money should be spent. Outcomes should be paramount – any rush to mindlessly fritter this money away without careful planning should be avoided at all costs. The government needs to offer more transparency in terms of what each EU-funded project has achieved, and where – if anywhere – there have been failings, so that lessons can be learned.
With a new Prime Minister in post, the way these projects will be funded and supported must and will change. I will make it my mission to ensure that Wales continues to receive at least every penny of the aid money it has historically received via the EU – we deserve and are entitled to no less. Brexit means greater scrutiny to those politicians charged with allocating financial support, where in the unelected EU commissioners there is none.
Now that a new government is being formed, it is not just going to be ‘business as usual’, and more positive reform can be expected. Theresa May a great friend of Wales, and in her establishment of police and crime commissioners, her pro-devolution credentials are plain to see. I am particularly encouraged by her commitment to empowering the individual, to making government work for everyone, and to embracing the referendum result.
On the latter point, of embracing Brexit, I entreat colleagues across the Senedd chamber to do the same. I implore them not to will its failure – not to see hurdles where there are opportunities in abundance. They must, as many thousands of people across Wales do, recognise it for what it is: a chance at a fresh start; a chance to grow the Welsh economy to a state where one day the words ‘structural funding’ are no longer in use.
Key to securing future prosperity for Wales is innovation, investment and infrastructure. Not the mirage of independence or the inactivity of Carwyn Jones’ government.